Friday, March 16, 2007

Sunday Dinner at Marigold Kitchen

Dogs walked, it was time to get back to food. BYOB restaurants being a bit of a rarity in New York, we decided to take Anne to one of our favorites in Philly, Marigold Kitchen (501 S. 45th at Larchwood). Not that we were necessarily looking for cheap eats, but the Sunday $35 three-course prix fixe dinner is one of the best deals in town. Besides that, I think Chef Michael Solomonov and the rest of the staff at Marigold are turning out one of the soundest BYO dining experiences in the area at the moment.

Our waitress, who greeted us at the door and showed us to our table, remembered my wife Lori and me from our last visit. She wasted no time in popping the cork on our first bottle of the evening so that we’d have something to sip while enjoying the amuse bouche and perusing the menu. The 1999 Ratzenberger Bacharacher Kloster Furstental Riesling Brut Sekt tasted good as always. Ratzenberger’s Rieslings, bubbly included, seem to age effortlessly and this was no exception; still young, bright, bone dry and elegant, it was a fine starting point. Our collective curiosity was piqued when our waitress stopped back a short while later to inquire as to whether any of us had any dietary limitations. A few moments after our resounding “No,” Chef Michael showed up table-side bearing a platter of foie gras “pastrami” sandwiches, little – actually, medium sized – squares of house made rye filled with, you guessed it, foie gras and topped with cornichon slices. Some heart-stoppingly addictive snack food….

As tempting as the five course tasting dinner ($60) sounded, we’d all by then, through no fault of the rich little sandwiches, decided to go with the $35 three course dinners. This is a Sunday only special which allows one choice each from the first course, second course and dessert portions of the menu. To start, Anne chose the “Carrot Soup with Miti-Crema and Mint,” Lori chose the “Salmon Rillette with Warm Flatbread” and I opted for “Seared Chicken Livers with Bacon and Pear.” While waiting for our firsts to arrive, we opened wine two of the evening, 2004 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire “Les Bournais.” The Chenin Blancs of Chidaine have been on my short list of favorite central Loire wines since I first encountered them in the 1999 vintage. “Les Bournais” is a new cuvée, 2004 representing the first vintage in bottle from this single vineyard site. Though a bit closed at first, it already displayed typical aromas of dried honey and a feel of wet stones on the palate. With air, it continued to open and improve over the course of our entire meal. It worked well, speaking for the group, with all of our appetizers. Certainly, it paired nicely with the perfectly cooked chicken livers which were pan crispy thanks to, I’m guessing, a light dredging before searing. The accents of smoky, salty bacon and slightly sweet, crisp pear in the dish only helped the marriage. As good as this wine is today, I’d strongly recommend holding it for at least a couple of years to give it time to integrate and develop.

As I’d brought two nice red wine options along for the ride, we all leaned toward meat when making our entrée choices. Both women went with the duck, prepared with parsnip purée; the official description eludes me as I neglected to bring home the night’s menu. For me, “Lamb Three Ways” was in order. And while either of the reds we’d brought may have been apropos, I really wanted to take a look at the 1999 Fattoria di Palazzo Vecchio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, as the estate’s Sangiovese based wines are a perennial favorite of mine with lamb. The “three ways” consisted of a glazed lamb loin chop, a lamb “cigar” (lamb sausage in a pastry wrapper), and lamb stew on a bed of Israeli couscous. All three preparations were solid on their own – I could enjoy a plate of the cigars for breakfast – but came together to form a more perfect whole. As for the wine, well, I wish we’d had more time to spend with it as it only became prettier, more aromatic and silkier as time passed. I was surprised at its youthfulness, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been as 1999 was a terrific year for Palazzo Vecchio and for Tuscany in general.

After a brief rest, revisiting the Montlouis seemed only right given the assortment of cheeses which followed our main courses. The night was capped by a selection of desserts all around, including a light, satisfying, tangy trio of “Lemon Tart with Lemon Curd and Lemon Meringue Sorbet.” This Sunday venture could be habit forming.

Marigold Kitchen in Philadelphia

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